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ENVIRONMENT REPORT — September 5, 2003: Pollution Rule Eased for Older Power Plants - 2003-09-04

This is the VOA Special English Environment Report.

The administration of President Bush has eased an air pollution rule for about seventeen-thousand older power stations and factories. Operators will have greater freedom to make changes without the need to add pollution control equipment.

The administration eased a rule established in a law called the Clean Air Act. Environmental groups say the new rule will damage the environment and threaten public health. They also accuse the Bush administration of acting to please its political supporters in the energy industry. The acting administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, Marianne Horinko, signed the new rule. She says it will increase fairness and dependability. She says it will not affect the protections of the Clean Air Act. President Bush's nominee to head the E-P-A, Utah Governor Mike Leavitt, awaits confirmation by the Senate.

Industry officials said the old rule was unclear about when operators had to add pollution controls while making changes. The new rule is based on the cost of repairs, replacements or improvements to production equipment. This will be true even if the changes increase pollution. But the pollution still has to remain within current limits.

Industry officials say operators will now be able to make improvements that had been too costly under the past requirements. The energy industry say such work will make power stations cleaner, and this will be good for the environment. Energy producers say electric service will also be less costly and more dependable. Last month a huge power outage affected New York City and other parts of the eastern United States and Canada.

But the attorney general of New York State, Eliot Spitzer, calls the new rule illegal. He says it means Americans will breathe dirtier air and get more lung diseases. And he says it will increase environmental damage. Mister Spitzer said he would fight the change in court.

The head of the American Lung Association, John Kirkwood, also condemned the new rule. He says huge amounts of scientific study have shown that air pollution causes health problems. He said E-P-A policy should be based on protecting public health, not improving industry profits.

This VOA Special English Environment Report was written by Caty Weaver.